Wall Decor Vignettes – Little Known Rules You Need to Know

Dear Laurel,

This question was sparked from the convo that’s been going on about the Furlow fronds. Oh, I like the way that sounds!

 

furlow-gatewood-porcelains - wall decor vignette

Furlow Gatewood wall decor vignette in Cuthbert House in Americus, GA

 

Furlow Gatewood Actual Palm Fronds

Another example of beautiful wall decor in Peacock House, created by Furlow Gatewood.

 

I read Terri’s comment that mentioned the company you found on Etsy, Heartwood Carvings, can do a custom size. You should have them make them and then sell them on your website.

 

But, anyway, this leads me to wonder this: How do I know what size palm frond, or for that matter, anything, to get for my wall decor?

 

heartwood carving 15" wide - wall decor palm fronds

 

You said the Heartwood wooden carved palm fronds are too small and that Furlow’s Peacock House fronds are about 42”-48″ wide. How do you know that by looking?

 

However, my thought is as follows: As there are rules for furniture planning and placement, I’m assuming there must be rules for wall decor.

 

What I’m curious about are what are the wall decor rules for:

 

 

Oh, and maybe some common mistakes people make when they decorate their walls might be helpful.

 

Wall art hanging rules and mistakes can be found here.

 

Since wall decoration is so “in your face,” it’s pretty important.

 

I hope you’ll think so too, and do a blog post sharing the info I mentioned in the bullet points.

Sincerely,

Fronda Palmer

 

***

 

Oh, Fronda. You know I have a friend in New York named Fronda, a 90-year-old ballet dancer and aerobics teacher! She’s a fantastic lady!

 

The topic of wall decor rules is a terrific idea, and you’re right, Fronda, it is important.

 

Therefore, today, I will go over some of the best tips, tricks, and rules you can use when creating wall decor vignettes.

So, let’s get started. We’ll be using the first wall decor vignette as an example to learn from.

 

The first thing I think is always helpful when planning our wall decor is remembering the 12-step decorating plan.

 

Those same techniques will work when planning our wall decor and everything else. A wall is an element of a room that should integrate with the space’s style, colors, and overall feeling.

Many of you already know that before Furlow Gatewood began building his houses, he was an antique dealer for decades. From a young age, he had honed in on his style and what he loved.

 

Furlow and I and many other designers loved everything classical.

Everything from that style goes together.

Of course, this doesn’t mean one has to do their wall decor in this same style. However, these elements always look great together.

 

What are the elements of classical wall decor?

 

 

However, please beware of the exceedingly tacky metal wall sculptures in the marketplace in the form of “granny tacky.”

 

For Example:

 

piece of drek wall sculputure
There’s this piece of drek wall sculpture from TOC. (Touch of Crass)

 

 

Let’s compare this to the image below, which would be lovely for a wall decor vignette.

 

Decorator's Supply Company Laurel Branch - classically inspired wall decorBut, even something like this lovely laurel branch from Decorator’s Supply can look a tad precious in a wall decor vignette. I did post some lovely carved wall decor pieces in Sunday’s post.

In addition, Furlow has some items from the Rococo Period (Louis XVth) preceding the neo-classical period. (Louis XVI). One example is the exquisite console in the wall decor vignette.

 




Laurel, I noticed that Furlow never seems to have any huge expanses of wall.

 

That’s true. There are a few, but not a lot. However, if you have a long living room or hall wall, please go here for some ideas.

 

Today, we will look at one of the most recognizable vignettes in Cuthbert House to use as our learning example.

 




Um, Laurel. Cuthbert House has 16-foot ceilings.




 

Yes, yes; that’s what it said in Veranda. However, please understand that much of what you read in magazines is false. It’s not intended to be that way; it just is. I would bet $100 that Cuthbert’s ceilings are not 16 feet. My ceiling height is 13’-6”, and they are bloody tall. Furlow’s can’t be 2.5 feet higher than mine.

 

my Boston living room February 2022
My Boston living room last year after I brought up the wicker chairs for company.

 

Furlow Gatewood parlor - empty Benjamin Moore Fusion paint color

How do I know they aren’t 16 feet? 

Experience is part of it. But, you can see there’s no way these ceilings are 2.5 feet taller than mine.  Those window panes would be over two feet high, and I know they are not that tall. They are about 20″ tall.

However, what I do when I want to know a measurement, but cannot physically measure something is find anything in the image, ideally on the wall, in this case, where I do know the measurement for sure.

So, we know that electric plates are 2.75″ wide. From there, I can calculate the baseboards are about 10″high. And, to the bottom of the window sill is one foot.

Then I manipulated this image so that one-foot area equals 3/8”. It could be half an inch or a quarter of an inch, but today 3/8″ worked nicely for me. This way, I could verify that to the top of the crown moulding is 14 feet.

 

Furlow Gatewood Cuthbert House -empty

Still, I wanted to be even more certain, so I looked at the beautiful center hall. I believe these blocks were custom-made. And, I am pretty sure they are about 6″ tall with the mortar. Adding them all up, including the baseboard, I come up with the equivalent of 28 blocks. 28 x 6″ is 168″, which is 14 feet.

Still, that’s a seriously high ceiling that probably less than 1% of readers live with.

 

Wait, what am I saying? That is not true because many of you have monstrously high ceilings, like 17 feet high, in the form of the ubiquitous two-story “great room.”


 


I hope this post will give you some good ideas.

 

Alright. Let’s look again at the famous vignette with the antler fronds, lol; I’ll call them.

 

Furlow Gatewood vignette - photo Rodney Colins

 

There’s Rod Collins, the photographer of these beautiful images, in the mirror.

But wait, just a red hot minute. The fabulous antler palm fronds are gone! I looked at other images taken after Furlow passed, and those fronds were gone too! Maybe they have been willed to some lucky person.

 

furlow-gatewood-porcelains - wall decor vignette

 

Anyway, here is the entire vignette. There are some slight differences.

 

Laurel, Cuthbert House has 16-foot ceilings.

 

Were you napping just now? We just went over that, perhaps a little too much.

 

But, Laurel…

 

Yes?

You can’t compare an eight-foot ceiling to Cuthbert’s 14-foot ceiling. It’s still nearly double the height!

Yes, you’re right. Maybe it won’t work. But, let’s try to have some faith, okay?

Let’s continue.

Furlow vignette pencil drawing

I turned Furlow’s wall decor vignette into a line drawing with a grid behind it so I know how big everything actually is, by the way. The 14′ ceiling height does correspond to the sizes of the furnishings.

 

Now, for the fun part.

 

Using blocks to Measu
For clarity’s sake. I took a translucent box over each element, duplicated it, and measured it with the grid.

 

I love that the table and the mirror are about the same size, just reversed measurements.

 

If you were to copy Furlow’s fronds exactly, you would need them to be approximately 26″ x 40″.

Here’s where most people are going to mess up. They will put something up that’s like 10″ x 15″. That’s too small.

 

How much room between elements?

 

Here’s where it gets more complicated. The bracket on the right looks higher, doesn’t it? Usually, no matter what, there should be a couple of inches minimum between elements. I don’t mean on the table but on the wall. I prefer 3″ – 4″, but on a large wall like this, 6″ is fine.

 

However, this is why planning out the wall decor is so helpful before you even buy anything.

 

It’s okay if you do already have elements you wish to incorporate. However, putting them down on paper and making a scale drawing will save you time and frustration. Plus, you won’t make a lot of unnecessary holes in your wall.

You can also do the real-life model where you cut out pieces of contrasting paper (like a paper bag) and tape those to the wall. However, that would not be easy on a ginormous wall like this one. The scale mock-up works just as well.

 

I also went ahead with further analysis to see why Furlow’s design is so pleasing.

 

Anatomy of a Wall Decor Vignette from Furlow Gatewood's Cuthbert House 14' ceiling height copy

 

I divided the main sections into contrasting colors and discovered that the bottom and top are about the same size. The middle section items create a square.

Did someone do this intentionally? Well, I don’t know. However, Furlow’s eye was so incredible he probably did it without even thinking about it. Everything looks so natural.

 

By always thinking in threes, you can’t go wrong.

 

In addition to threes and the obvious symmetry, there is a great example of visual tension in breaking the symmetry on the tabletop. This is necessary because it would soon become tiresome if we had perfect pairs on each side.

Notice how the fronds on top and the hurricane on the tabletop overlap into the center section. This gives a flow to the entire vignette, keeping it from being too rigid.

I marked where the 8′ spot would be.

 

Hehehehe, Laurel, I told you, you wouldn’t be able to do it. There is no way this can translate to an eight-foot wall.

 

Are you sure about that?

What if I told you I did create Furlow’s vignette without crowding or using nursery school furniture?

 

I’ll believe it when I see it.

 

Okay, are you ready?

Here it is!

 

eight-foot ceiling wall decor vignette

 

I didn’t copy all of his furniture. However, the chest is Louis XVI.

 

Below are some of the measurements; you’ll see that these are normal-sized pieces.

 

eight-foot ceiling wall decor - like Furlow Gatewood wall decor vignette measurements

Actually, those ginger jars, on closer inspection, look to be 10″ wide. But, you get the idea.

 

Laurel, how wide is the wall?

 

It’s 6′-3″, just like my darling son, Cale, who just landed in the middle of Kentucky for a three-month work-study-mentorship for timber framing. Yes, he wants to be a builder. Isn’t that cool?

 

Okay, let’s summarize. I believe I answered the questions Fronda had in her bullet points.

 

  • So that your wall decor doesn’t look dumb or kitschy, look to the masters for ideas.

Gosh, guys. That’s what Furlow did. He did not make all of this up. He just did it better than everyone else. It has all already been done, but not in such a fresh, natural way.

  • For sizing, you need to get some graph paper and a pencil, or you can play on Pickmonkey like I love to do.
  • Spacing looks good to your eye, but I usually like at least 2″ – 4″ between most elements.

 

Again, the rules have a little leeway.

 

Okay, I played around some more, and one last image.

 

eight-foot ceiling wall decor - like Furlow Gatewood wall decor vignette - geometry

Look at that geometry! I created the three main horizontal areas.

The orange stripes overlap between the chartreuse and the prints’ top and bottom. And then, look how naturally the triangles fit in to create a six-pointed star. I’ve never done this before, and I’ve never seen anyone else do it. However, it makes so much sense.

 

Laurel, could you do this with walls that are a different size?

 

Yes! Absolutely.

 

One Man's Folly, The Exceptional Houses of Furlow Gatewood

 

I recommend getting Furlow’s book if you don’t already have it. You can find it here.

You can also learn a lot going through Rod Collins’ Smugmug. And that’s free. However, he has dozens of folders, and you can’t always tell what you’ll find on the inside by the outside. Still, it’s an incredible gift Rod has given to the world.

I hope you enjoyed this post and got more clarity when creating beautiful wall decor vignettes.

xo,

 

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22 Responses

  1. The cover of that book is a bold move. I see the two dirty spots on the lower left side of the skirt and the slightly out-of-focus left dog and think, “I would have never chosen this picture to be in a picture book, much less the cover.” This is because I’m perfectionistic in nature. However, the picture is mesmerizingly yummy and makes me want to buy the book. So someone was brilliant and BRAVE enough to use that photo. That is real art, right? The art of grasping the emotional core of a group of beautiful things.

  2. Laurel, I’ve been cleaning out my email, and have re-read all of your posts over the last several months before I move them to “your” mailbox. I have to tell you that the breadth of your knowledge, and your ability to convey information, coupled with your silliness makes you a true gem-a real treasure. I so appreciate your doing what you do. Thank you!

  3. Rod Collins’ Smugmug Is a goldmine…I mean a real friggin goldmine! I hope he never deletes it!🙏
    I had been on it a few years ago, but seeing all the new photos of Furlow‘s last birthday and the many now empty rooms is just heartbreaking…but also an amazing testament to a great mensch. And his urn planted with his beloved dogs…ok, now I’m crying.
    Even seeing the empty rooms now is so amazing because we see the barebones he created…the sizes, windows, the moldings and framings, wall textures and backdrop colors. So much to take from this.
    I wonder if the items will be auctioned off at one point…and what will happen to the property…?

    1. Hi Jane,

      I know… the photos make one feel like they are there. This volume of images that Rod has taken is priceless.

      Yes, the items are to be auctioned off, but when, I don’t know. Maybe they are waiting until after the coronation.
      I do believe that Stair Galleries is handling the auction.

      As for the houses, I believe all but Peacock House is going to be sold. Can you imagine seeing these gems with someone else’s furniture in them? Sorry, I don’t mean to make you cry, again! {{hugs}}

  4. Thank you very much for featuring Julia Reed’s fabulous book, “One Man’s Folly.” I purchased it immediately and have spent several hours soaking it in. I must admit, the barn is my favorite.

    You did go through such careful consideration on the height of the windows, yet, I thought I recalled the book mentioning the ceiling height. There it is, right on page 102, second paragraph, last sentence:
    “More important, it had remarkable bones: sixteen foot ceilings, fourteen foot windows, perfect symmetry, and a wide center hall a columned archway.” Perhaps, Veranda relied upon the book for its information.

    Anyway, thanks for another masterclass, your posts are always such gems.

    1. Hi Kimberly,

      My book is sitting right here. Yes, that’s what it says. However, I think it’s one of those things that someone said, but no one verified, and it sounded about right, so they went with that. Of course, I could be 100% wrong. However, an electric outlet cover is a standard size. And the types of furniture he had, don’t have much deviation in size.

  5. I really admired your Furlow-inspired wall decor for an 8-foot ceiling, but it took me a while (much too long) to realize that I already have a very similar set-up in my living room, although instead of that beautiful mirror I have a large painting of a young girl that my husband painted. On the brackets I have Chinoiserie vintage porcelain birds, and instead of the chest there is a console with a very large 18th century Chinese bowl, some Tang pottery figures and a lamp. I’d like to think that I contrived all of this on my own, but in truth a lot of my decor inspiration originated in Furlow Gatewood’s wonderful book!

  6. Hi Laurel,
    This is incredibly informative. I’m gathering pieces to hang on a wall & your measurement tips are very helpful.
    What would be even more helpful is if you could stop by & help me with putting them together. 😉
    You’re always welcome in my home. Just give me a 30 minute warning when you’re on your way.😂

  7. Bravo!
    This a a great topic to write about and to analyze and contrast and compare.
    This is the best way to learn and master skills.
    To my eye — I think there needs to be objects on the decorative brackets in the smaller vignette. They would speak to the objects on the chest and the floor.
    Too much negative space.

  8. This is a wonderfully informative post! It will take a while for me to digest the steps to making a scale drawing of the wall in a computer program…but, I think it will be worth the time it takes.

  9. Thank you for this post. Great info!! Furlow was an incredible talent. I love how deftly he mixed warm and cool colors. Wow.
    Totally off subject – do you or anyone know the paint colors of the walls and ceiling in the room that’s shown empty?
    Much appreciated.

  10. Dear Nancy, I’m not Roxanne or Caryl but I would have to move that art away from the edges of the TV, it would drive me bonkers.

    The laurel wreath element is gorgeous but I’m so scared it will look like a cheesy metal thing from Mikey’s. Maybe if I worked it so it’s eye level or lower, that doesn’t seem right. I don’t know, scary.

  11. Brilliant, Laurel, to have figured out “the look” with low ceilings. One way I figure out heights is if the doorways look normally sized I visually measure from there. I am sure you do that, too, agin the kitchen we love that looks to be much higher than it is.

    XOXO

  12. I have never found something to use on the wall above our queen bed with beautiful arched headboard. I could not picture a square or rectangular frame. This might work with our 10 foot ceiling, crown moulding, and duvet cover with leaf pattern.

    Thanks for inspiration Laurel!

  13. Roxanne and Caryl, I had done my best attempt at a gallery wall on each side of large TV. I had art above the TV as well. My husband just bought a larger TV and now the inner edges of the art closest to the TV are concealed behind it. I took down the pieces that were above the old TV since this one goes so much higher. Do I need to rehang the art that is on each side of the TV to keep those inner edges from being obscured?

  14. Love Caryl’s question! We have a honking big tv that I actually love as a big movie watcher! It is not over the mantle (ugh, what a horrible use of beautiful space), but it’s “there”. I discovered YouTube has tv art that makes your screen look like a giant painting, but I don’t want to leave it on constantly!
    I love One Man’s Folly. Just the cover alone makes me happy!

  15. Omg…Furlow is a bit over the top in my opinion. But to each their own. I think I’m more minimalistic than he is.

  16. Would it be incredibly crass to use this approach who decorate around TV on a media console? My philosophy has been that my TV is what it is, and I don’t try to disguise it. But the wall that it is against looks half finished.

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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